Exclusive: Ship's crew allege fatalities came from cruelty

TERRIFIED crewmen aboard Japanese coal carrier Sage Sagittarius allege a spate of fatalities in Australian waters were not tragic accidents, but may have been designed to silence accusations of cruelty.

The revelations come as the New South Wales Coroner considers whether the deaths warrant an inquest

Ship owner Hachiuma Steamship does not believe the deaths are suspicious.

Chief cook Cesar Llanto, 42, vanished in a suspected "man overboard" incident about 8.10am on August 30, 2012 while the ship was 830km off the coast of Cairns.

Two weeks later on September 14, Sagittarius chief engineer Hector Collado, 57, fell to his death while the ship docked at the Port of Newcastle.

Less than a month later on October 6, 2012 safety superintendent Kosaku Monji , 37, was crushed to death by conveyor belt machinery as Sagittarius unloaded at a Japanese port.

Mr Monji was aboard to protect the crew after the earlier deaths.

The Sagittarius earned the label of "murder ship" or "death ship" from Australian advocates.

The Sagittarius has previously visited the Queensland ports of Gladstone, Abbot Point and Brisbane while ferrying coal from Australia to Japan.

Earlier this week, the ship was travelling north along Queensland waters 80km off the Sunshine Coast.

In evidence given by crew members to Australian Federal Police - and recounted to APN - the ship's captain was accused of repeatedly punching a sailor or "mess man".

In the evidence, the victim reported the abuse to Mr Llanto on the evening of August 29.

The next morning, Mr Llanto would vanish.

Crew members spoke to APN on condition of anonymity, fearful of industry blacklisting.

They alleged Mr Llanto was called to the bridge by the captain for a one-on-one meeting on the morning he disappeared, after the allegations of abuse were raised.

Soon after that meeting, they said, the captain declared Mr Llanto missing.

Findings by the Panama Government, where the ship is registered, had a different version of events.

Its report told how Mr Llanto's disappearance was noticed when the captain and second in command or chief officer were left waiting for their breakfast at 8.40am.

The alarm was raised with Australian authorities at 10.40am, two hours after Mr Llanto was last seen.

Investigators were told Mr Llanto did meet with the chief officer - not the captain - before the disappearance but only to "discuss the poor performance of the mess man".

APN understands this was referring to the same mess man making accusations of abuse.

The Panama report found there was "no reason" for Mr Llanto to fall overboard.

The captain left the ship voluntarily after Mr Llanto and Mr Collado's deaths, according to Hachiuma.

Hachiuma general affairs spokesman Naoya Miyasaka told APN by email he "has not been privy to, or heard of any evidence to suggest that any of the events were suspicious"

Mr Miyasaki said the company's own findings would not be made public.

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